Global Digital Game Spending Hits Record $109B in 2019

Courtesy of Epic Games

The year's top-earning title was once again Epic Games' 'Fortnite,' which generated $1.8 billion.

Global spending on digital games hit a new high in 2019 as Nielsen's SuperData Research Group has revealed the industry generated more than $109.4 billion this year, up 3 percent from 2018's $106.1 billion.

The year's top-earning title overall was once again Epic Games' Fortnite, which generated $1.8 billion in 2019. The game — which first launched in 2017 and is free to download across consoles, PC and mobile platforms — brought in $2.4 billion last year. 

Free-to-play titles drove the bulk of spending, accounting for 80 percent of total digital game spending in 2019. Meanwhile, the mobile market (which is dominated by high-earning free-to-play titles such as King's Candy Crush Saga and Tencent's Honour of Kings) brought in three out of every five dollars spent on digital games, growing mobile's market share to 73 percent of total revenue. Asia drove the most spending, followed by North America, Europe and the rest of the world's markets.

The growth in mobile gaming was aided by the introduction of AAA franchises into the genre, such as October's Call of Duty Mobile (which earned $116.8 million in 2019) and Nintendo's Mario Kart Tour, launched in September. SuperData did not disclose the game's total revenue for 2019 (Nintendo also declined to provide a figure), but the Mario Kart racked up 129 million downloads and $37.4 million in player spending over its first month of release. Both games are free downloads.

The free-to-play model has been adopted by a number of games outside of the mobile market recently, including Bungie's shooter franchise Destiny in June. Indicative of the growing trend of companies utilizing the model, revenue generated by free-to-play games rose 6 percent year-over-year to $87.1 billion. Mobile titles dominated the top 10 list in the genre, accounting for six of the spots with strong continued performances from the aforementioned Candy Crush Saga ($1.5 billion in 2019) and Honour of Kings ($1.6 billion), as well as Niantic's Pokemon Go ($1.4 billion). 

While mobile and free-to-play games dominated the year, so-called "premium" or AAA titles from major studios saw a decline in spending in 2019, down 5 percent year-over-year to $18.9 billion. Europe and North America accounted for the majority of spending, followed by Asia and the rest of the world's markets.

While this year did see the release of a number of notable AAA games (such as Activision Blizzard's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Gearbox Software's Borderlands 3, Kojima Production's Death Stranding and NetherRealm Studios' Mortal Kombat 11, among others), they failed to meet the success of marquee 2018 titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 from Rockstar Games ($460 million in 2018) or Capcom's somewhat surprising mega-hit Monster Hunter World, which became the Japanese game company's biggest hit in its 40-year history with more than 14 million copies sold and generated $453 million last year.

This year's top-earning AAA release was EA's FIFA 19 (released in September, 2018), which earned $786 million. This year's iteration of the annual sports title, FIFA 20, was No. 4 on the list with $504 million. Only four of the top 10 earners this year were released in 2019: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (No. 2; $645 million), FIFA 20, Tom Clancy's The Division 2 (No. 7; $370 million) and Borderlands 3 (No. 9; $329 million). Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto V, first launched in 2013, finished the year in the No. 3 spot, earning $595 million.

Despite the downturn in 2019, AAA games are expected to tick back up to $19.8 billion in 2020 with highly anticipated releases on the schedule such as CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077 in April, Square Enix's Final Fantasy VII Remake in March and Naughty Dog's The Last of Us Part II in May.